Christian Pilgrim


Blog 2014


Accepting the Lord's Providence

The Doctrine According to Godliness

The Undetectable God

The Lost Art of Suffering Wrongfully

The Last Shall Be First

What if I am not One of the Elect?

The End does Not Justify the Means


Good Works

Understanding Future Events

This is An Hard Saying


Accepting the Lord's Providence

What is your opinion on women ministers?

It does not really matter what your opinion is actually. It is what the Bible says that counts. The Bible is clear. Only men should be in authority in the church.

Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.” 1 Timothy 2:11,12.

Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law. And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.”  1 Corinthians 14:34,35.

These two statements are the authoritative words of Paul the Apostle. They are not just for his time. They have been put in the Holy Scriptures, and so are binding on us today. Otherwise, if we say it was only for Paul’s time, we could then be free to disregard many other clear teachings of Scripture as well.

Having said that, what would you do if a woman became the new minister of your church? Most people who understand the truth about male headship would object, not pay attention to her and, presumably, if all efforts fail to get rid of her, they would leave that church altogether.

But this is the wrong attitude. We again need to come to the Bible to see what our real attitude should be.

Deborah was a Judge in Israel.

And Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lapidoth, she judged Israel at that time. And she dwelt under the palm tree of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in mount Ephraim: and the children of Israel came up to her for judgment. And she sent and called Barak the son of Abinoam out of Kedeshnaphtali, and said unto him, Hath not the Lord God of Israel commanded, saying, Go and draw toward mount Tabor, and take with thee ten thousand men of the children of Naphtali and of the children of Zebulun? And I will draw unto thee to the river Kishon Sisera, the captain of Jabin's army, with his chariots and his multitude; and I will deliver him into thine hand. And Barak said unto her, If thou wilt go with me, then I will go: but if thou wilt not go with me, then I will not go. And she said, I will surely go with thee: notwithstanding the journey that thou takest shall not be for thine honour; for the Lord shall sell Sisera into the hand of a woman. And Deborah arose, and went with Barak to Kedesh.” Judges 4:4-9.

Note here that Israel accepted Deborah as the Judge which God had provided for them. There was no objection that she should not be a Judge, and no suggestion that she should therefore be ignored and told to get back behind the kitchen sink where she belonged.

But why would God do something against His own ordained command of male headship? Well, the way Deborah spoke to Barak gives us the answer. Barak would not go up to fight against Sisera unless Deborah went with him. This was a mark of weakness. Deborah told him that she would go, but the Lord would give Sisera into the hand of a woman (which He did, as Jael killed him). In days when the cause of God is weak, the Lord sets women up in positions of leadership to shame the men. In Barak’s day, this was the situation. The Lord set up Deborah to shame the men because of their weakness. And God is doing the same today.

And then in the days of godly Josiah, after the terribly evil reigns of Manasseh and his son Amon, after true religion had almost been completely forgotten, Josiah began the task of cleansing and renovating the Temple. During this time they found the Book of the Law, and Josiah asked several of his men to enquire of the Lord as to what they should do. The only prophet of the Lord they could find in such days of declension was the prophetess Huldah:

Go ye, enquire of the LORD for me, and for the people, and for all Judah, concerning the words of this book that is found: for great is the wrath of the LORD that is kindled against us, because our fathers have not hearkened unto the words of this book, to do according unto all that which is written concerning us. So Hilkiah the priest, and Ahikam, and Achbor, and Shaphan, and Asahiah, went unto Huldah the prophetess, the wife of Shallum the son of Tikvah, the son of Harhas, keeper of the wardrobe; (now she dwelt in Jerusalem in the college;) and they communed with her.” 2 Kings 22:13,14.

Again, there was no suggestion that they should not recognise her as a true prophet of the Lord, and her prophecy indeed came true.

Women are flooding into leadership positions in the church. Many of them, just like the men, are unbelievers these days, but the fact remains that it is not unusual today for at least some women preachers to be better than most of the men. God has created this situation in His providence to shame the men. God has not allowed this to happen so that we can split the church even further by setting up tinpot little churches whose only difference with the parent church is that they insist on male headship. This situation we have in the church today is all so terribly worldly.

Rather, if the powers that be in our church accepts women ministers, our job is firstly to be ashamed there are no men, then to acknowledge that we are in a period of declension, to put up with the situation that we are in, to pray for more prosperous days for the church, and finally to acknowledge these women’s real authority in the church because of their position. God wants it to be so for the time being, just as He wanted Deborah to be Judge over Israel in her day.

And we can extend this principle to every situation where, in the Lord's providence, for a time, things are not quite what they should be.

Has your church introduced loud thump, thump, thump music into the worship? Don’t just get up and leave. Pray for better days. Of course, don’t join in with it all. Sit at the back of the church during these “worship” times reading your Bible and praying about the situation, that at least some of the young people who introduced such “worship” in the first place might come to see the necessity of serious religion, and the awful inadequate lightness of their so-called “worship” songs.

Has your church introduced a new modern translation of the Bible into the worship services? Is the new Bible based on the modern text, and not the Received text that the King James Bible is based on? Work with it. When given an opportunity, point out differences and show where the new version is wrong, but don’t leave the church over it.

Has your church stopped insisting on the ladies covering their heads in public worship, contrary to the 1 Corinthians 11 pattern? Don't let it bother you. Ladies, keep your hats on, and keep praying for better days.

No church is perfect. You can split, and split, and split, and still you will not get a perfect church. Splitting is not the answer. No. Put up with it. God has allowed it to happen in His providence for these particular times.

Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples, Saying, The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat: All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not.” Matthew 23:1-3.

Instead, concentrate on personal godliness. Do not compromise with these people and movements personally, but do not leave the church either. It never ceases to amaze me that churches that particularly emphasise the sovereignty of God always seem to be the ones splitting on issues and forming new churches all the time. This hardly shows a practical reliance on the sovereignty of God at all. God will keep His own testimony, He does not need us to try to keep it for Him by splitting the church all the time.

I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Matthew 16:18.

And this is the Father’s will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day.” John 6:39.

No. We are not of this world. Church politics is beneath us.

Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence.” John 18:36.

When the signs of the end of the world will appear (one of which is the appearance of false prophets and the scarceness of true religion), we are told:

And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh.” Luke 21:28.

Our home is in heaven. Here in this vale of tears which is this world, we are to put up with whatever the Lord brings our way in His providence. After all, He knows what He is doing.

Fret not thyself because of evildoers, neither be thou envious against the workers of iniquity. For they shall soon be cut down like the grass, and wither as the green herb.” Psalm 37:1,2.

I have seen the wicked in great power, and spreading himself like a green bay tree. Yet he passed away, and, lo, he was not: yea, I sought him, but he could not be found.” Psalm 37:35,36.

This is our life here. And it is only for a short time.

But this I say, brethren, the time is short: it remaineth, that both they that have wives be as though they had none; And they that weep, as though they wept not; and they that rejoice, as though they rejoiced not; and they that buy, as though they possessed not; And they that use this world, as not abusing it: for the fashion of this world passeth away.” 1 Corinthians 7:29-31.

Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.” James 4:14.

Concentrate on living a godly life. That will be your eternal witness to the world around you.

Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear: for our God is a consuming fire.” Hebrews 12:28,29.

Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God." 2 Peter 3:11,12.

December 2014

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The Doctrine According to Godliness

If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness; He is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings, Perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself.” 1 Timothy 6:3-5.

Doctrine. What goes through your mind whenever you hear that word?

Many people in the church today hate that word. They would say, “Doctrine divides, but love unites.” And maybe they would quote Scripture:

Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth.” 1 Corinthians 8:1.

But that statement in itself is a dogmatic, doctrinal statement. It is impossible to be without doctrine. Doctrine is useful. Doctrine is the body of truth that we believe. Do we believe that the earth is billions of years old, and that when we are dead that is the end? That is a doctrinal statement, and millions of people live their lives in the light of that statement. But it is a totally false doctrine, and millions of people go to hell as a result of believing in it. It is therefore very important that we have correct doctrine, so we may know what is true.

There are many people that hate the truth:

And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient.” Romans 1:28.

For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge.” Romans 10:2.

Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.” 2 Timothy 3:7.

But we, true Christians, love the truth, and we want to grow in the knowledge of it:

God “will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.” 1 Timothy 2:4.

But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever. Amen.” 2 Peter 3:18.

But the purpose of knowing what is true is not so that we can be clever and impress our friends. Or even that we may win theological debates. The purpose of coming to a knowledge of the truth is solely for the purpose of then applying it to our lives practically.

Christ taught doctrine:

And they were astonished at his doctrine: for he taught them as one that had authority, and not as the scribes.” Mark 1:22.

And His doctrine came from the Father:

Jesus answered them, and said, My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me. If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.” John 7:16-17.

And such doctrine is most important as the only source of all our teaching in the church:

Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee.” 1 Timothy 4:16.

We need to make sure we have the knowledge of the truth, and that we keep hold of it. But unbelievers can know the truth – after all it is freely available in the Bible – and as a result they can easily become better theologians than true believers are (and many of them shame us with their knowledge of the Bible).

There are plenty of people who receive the truth, join the church, and maybe are in it for many years, but they are without a regenerate heart, and consequently their lives do not change in accordance with it:

For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins.” Hebrews 10:26.

Many people in the church think that true doctrine and the defence of it against all comers is all that there is to true religion. They love a fight. They love to have a good debate whereby they can defend (what they think is) the truth. And many church splits have occurred because of this.

There are thousands of different denominations in the world now, all living as though they were the only church in the world, having no connection with any other church. This cannot be a good witness for Christ. Yet the people who try to defend their denomination, and who feel they are called of God to do this, will not agree with me. They will say “To keep the testimony to the truth, we must split from the parent church because it has allowed error into its teachings.”

Do you know any churches like this? I do. I have been in them. They are very attractive, because it is true that the defence of the truth is a very important part of the Christian faith. I can understand people who think this way. But the problem we must face is that no denomination or movement on the face of the earth will ever have no error in it. No matter how many times they split, they will have some wrong theology in them somewhere.

That does not mean that we should not ourselves as individuals continue to seek the truth by studying God’s Word, so long as we never think that a time has come when we no longer hold any major errors any more. This is especially a concern when we have been blinded into believing that only one denomination on earth has the truth.

Many people know the truth, but they have never been born-again in their hearts. Yes, it is possible to be sound in your theology and still go to hell. All your theology may be right, but without a new heart, you are still in your sins and trespasses.

You can spend your entire life defending the truth, and at the last end up in hell fire.

The most important thing in life is that you get yourself a new heart, that you become a new creature in Christ. This involves humility, crying to God for mercy. These unbelieving truth-defenders do not know what true humility is, they just want to aggressively defend their position in a worldly way, using human means of persuasion.

But we cannot do this. Yes, we may, by human persuasion, get followers for ourselves and our own little cause. We may even be able to start a church and see it grow. But that is not what Christianity is about. Our job is to get followers for Jesus, not ourselves.

What truth these people do teach can indeed be used of God to convert people. But it is the truth that converts. The Word of God is living and powerful, not the words or persuasive power of men:

For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” Hebrews 4:12.

And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: that your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.” 1 Corinthians 2:4,5.

The Christian life is not just about defending true doctrine. It is far more than this. It is also about applying the doctrine we know in order to live a godly life. If every time we come to the Scripture, we have no interest in practically applying it, then there is no spiritual life in us at all.

This is also the test we can use whenever we listen to others. Did that sermon, that article, that conversation with that so-called believer challenge me? change me? inspire me to live in a more godly manner? If not, we need to doubt the faith of the person we have been listening to. If all they wanted was to teach

fables and endless genealogies, which minister questions, rather than godly edifying which is in faith” 1 Timothy 1:4,

then it was a waste of time listening to them. It is “godly edifying” that we need. This is the true “doctrine according to godliness.”

Now the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned: from which some having swerved have turned aside unto vain jangling; desiring to be teachers of the law; understanding neither what they say, nor whereof they affirm.” 1 Timothy 1:5-7.

Here is an example of what I mean. Do we believe that we are bipartite or tripartite beings? There we are, I have lost some of you already.  By that I mean, do we believe that man is made up of body and soul (two entities), or body, soul and spirit (three entities)? True Christians disagree on this issue. But the question is not which side do we fall into, but rather, does it affect my way of life whichever of them I believe? If it does not affect my way of life at all either way, it is pretty much a waste of time arguing about it.

How many angels can you get on the end of a pin? This is an interesting philosophical question, but does finding the answer to it change my attitude towards loving my neighbour? If not, don’t waste time thinking about it.

However, what about this question: Does everything happen by chance, or does everything happen under God’s providential control? Now, this question can seriously affect the way we live. If we don’t know the answer to it, or if we believe the wrong answer, we can go well astray. It is important that we know the answer to this question.

Nothing, absolutely nothing in this world happens by “chance.” I really do not know how people can live believing this, they must live very anxious lives. Many scientists believe that one day a giant asteroid will crash into the earth and wipe many of us out. What a life. Believing in such a thing as “chance” must make a life intolerably miserable. However, if we truly believe in the providence of God, that God is in control of all things, then we can have the comfort of knowing that God knows what He is doing:

And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28.

And even if an asteroid does come and wipe many of us out, we can rest in the knowledge that there was a purpose behind it, rather than it being just a random event.

Our belief in sound doctrine should therefore always lead to practical Christian living:

But speak thou the things which become sound doctrine: that the aged men be sober, grave, temperate, sound in faith, in charity, in patience. The aged women likewise, that they be in behaviour as becometh holiness, not false accusers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things; that they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed. Young men likewise exhort to be sober minded. In all things shewing thyself a pattern of good works: in doctrine shewing uncorruptness, gravity, sincerity, sound speech, that cannot be condemned; that he that is of the contrary part may be ashamed, having no evil thing to say of you.” Titus 2:1-8.

Let us teach sound doctrine by all means, but let it also inspire us on to teaching godly living:

Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord” Hebrews 12:14.

November 2014

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The Undetectable God

What is the biggest problem that we come across when we are witnessing our faith to people? Surely it is the fact that everything we have to say to them is spiritual, and therefore invisible to their senses. They therefore conclude that our religion is just “pie in the sky when you die,” and consequently, they will not listen. They want something tangible.

This problem is not just confined to ignorant people. Many very intelligent people, Oxford professors, think this way as well. They cannot detect God with their senses, nor with any of their sensitive scientific instruments (and they never will be able to), so, they conclude that God is just a delusion in the minds of weak people. (And they make lots of money writing popular books on the subject).

Ever since the fall of Adam and Eve, all of us are now bound by nature to the things of time and sense:

All mankind, by their fall, lost communion with Goda, are under His wrathb and cursec, and so made liable to all the miseries of this lifed, to death itselfe, and to the pains of hell for everf.”
aGenesis 3:8,24; John 8:34,42,44; Ephesians 2:12, 4:18.
bJohn 3:36; Romans 1:18; Ephesians 2:3, 5:6.
cGalatians 3:10; Revelation 22:3.
dGenesis 3:16-19; Job 5:7; Ecclesiastes 2:22,23; Romans 8:18-23.
eEzekiel 18:4; Romans 5:12, 6:23.
fMatthew 25:41,46; 2 Thessalonians 1:9; Revelation 14:9-11
(Westminster Shorter Catechism Q.19.).

God is a Spirit, and so, whether we are fallen creatures or not, He will never actually be seen or sensed with the senses that we have as created beings:

No man hath seen God at any time.” John 1:18; 1 John 4:12.

But before the fall, God was at least detectable by man in some way, and Adam could at least commune with Him and have a relationship with Him. Now He is not. From the fall of Adam to Christ’s second coming at the end of time, this will be the situation we will find ourselves in.

But, God has not left man in this situation, although He could have done, if He had wished. He left the fallen angels without any plan to save them, why not men? Just let them fall into hell fire, which is where they all deserve to go. But:

God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” John 3:16.

So, the wonderful news is that a number that no man can number are going to be saved from the wrath to come through the blood of the Lamb. They are going to be regenerated, given a new heart and a new nature, and restored into communion and fellowship with the living God. Are you one of these people? Pray to God for a new heart, and do not give Him rest until you get it.

How do these people now walk, whilst they are in this world? They are still in these bodies and consequently still cannot detect God by their natural senses. Yet, they now know in their new hearts that He exists and is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him:

But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” Hebrews 11:6.

So they

Walk by faith, not by sight.” 2 Corinthians 5:7.

The change that has happened to them is spiritual, and therefore invisible to the naked eye. This is why the world does not understand them:

They seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand.” Matthew 13:13.

But true Christians can still have a problem with the invisibility, the spirituality, of their religion.

Sometimes they can feel that God is not with them. But even Christ in His human body had this problem too. Once. Christ on the cross cried:

My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Psalm 22:1.

Christ Himself at this point felt utterly forsaken by His Father, but of course, the Father was actually never more pleased with Him than when He was hanging on the cross making atonement for the sins of His people.

And also, quite often, Christians can think along the lines that surely something about true religion ought to be visible.

Surely, we ought to be baptised by water to be saved? No, baptism is merely a physical picture of the spiritual reality that we need to be baptised by the Holy Spirit, i.e. born again, and have a new heart put within us.

The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” 1 Peter 3:21.

Surely we must have to take the communion to be saved? After all, Christ said:

Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.” John 6:53,54.

No, this too is spiritual. We must eat and drink Christ spiritually to be saved:

This is that bread which came down from heaven: not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead: he that eateth of this bread shall live for ever.” John 6:58.

Surely we must have to be a church member to be saved? No, visible churches in this world, like all these visible things, are again only ever a physical picture of the spiritual reality:

But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect.” Hebrews 12:22,23.

But what about Old Testament saints. Surely they had to be circumcised to be saved? No:

For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: but he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.” Romans 2:28,29.

Surely they had to make animal sacrifices to be saved? No:

For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins.... And every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins: but this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God; from henceforth expecting till his enemies be made his footstool. For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.” Hebrews 10:4,11-14.

Surely the Jews had, and still have, a piece of real estate at the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea as their true home and Promised Land? No:

These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country. And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned. But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.” Hebrews 11:13-16.

For here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come.” Hebrews 13:14.

Surely in the Old Testament men had to keep the law to be saved, whereas now in the New we just have to believe in Jesus? No, to be saved to eternal life they had to believe in the Messiah that was to come, in exactly the same way that we have to look to the Messiah that has been:

Is he the God of the Jews only? is he not also of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also: seeing it is one God, which shall justify the circumcision by faith, and uncircumcision through faith.” Romans 3:29,30.

Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; and were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and did all eat the same spiritual meat; and did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ.” 1 Corinthians 10:1-4.

And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed.” Galatians 3:8.

For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it.” Hebrews 4:2.

So we see that absolutely everything about the true religion is, and ever has been, spiritual, and the sooner we learn that, the better.

But did not God ordain all these visible things such as animal sacrifices, the law on tables of stone, the Promised Land, baptism, the Lord’s Supper, etc., and did He not give instructions in the Bible as to how to order visible churches?

Yes, this is true. But the reason He did this is because we are always going to need visible representations whilst we are in this world, exactly because we cannot see the spiritual reality. But we must always keep in mind that the visible things are merely physical pictures which point to the spiritual reality, and never the real thing. We should at no time let the picture become more important than the reality.

So, how are we to live our lives? We are to live them in the light of the eternal:

For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal. For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” 2 Corinthians 4:17-5:1.

If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God.” Colossians 3:1-3.

Fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” Matthew 10:28.

It is because of the invisibility of everything about our faith that the world will laugh at us, ridicule us, ignore us or even may persecute us. But we should humble ourselves and:

Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” Phillippians 2:5-8.

Do we really do this? Or are we still hooked onto the things of this world, outward church appearances and the like, and think that these can be our witness to the world?

Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.” 1 John 2:15-17.

Everything under the sun is vanity:

Then I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and on the labour that I had laboured to do: and, behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun.” Ecclesiastes 2:11.

This is the message we need to get across to others. Many people already know it. Here in China, every day I see many young people on the underground, slumped in their seats, going to work for 12 hours a day, getting on the underground again in the evening to go home, again slumped in their seats (yes, they get a seat, so they must travel a long distance), then they spend all night in their internet cafes gaming, before doing it all again the next day. Regularly there are reports of one of these pathetic creatures throwing themselves out of the window from a high building because they cannot face it any more. These people KNOW that “all is vanity and vexation of spirit.” We do not have to tell them. But at the same time they refuse to come to an invisible Saviour who is the only one who can help them.

And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life.” John 5:40.

We must face eternity. We are only here in this world for a time:

It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment.” Hebrews 9:27.

There is nowhere else to go to. The disciples realised this:

Then said Jesus unto the twelve, Will ye also go away? Then Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life. And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God.” John 6:67-69.

Let us make sure that we do too.

Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee. My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever.” Psalm 73:25,26.

October 2014

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The Lost Art of Suffering Wrongfully

I am not mad, most noble Festus; but speak forth the words of truth and soberness.” Acts 26:25.

I used to work in a hospital, and I often went to the hospital chapel during my tea breaks for some quiet time to read my Bible. However, I had to give up in the end and go elsewhere,  because I was so frequently interrupted by patients from the psychiatric ward coming in and disturbing the peace. Many people with psychiatric illnesses are “religious.” Consequently, the world thinks that all “religious” people, even those who have truly been born-again and have the true religion, have got something wrong with them.

Christ and the apostles had to confront this problem as well. On several occasions in the Bible we are told about someone with an unclean spirit who was actually speaking the truth, but because their lives did not reflect godly living, they were told to be quiet as their verbal witness was not in line with their lifestyle, and therefore not a good witness at all:

And there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit; and he cried out, saying, Let us alone; what have we to do with thee, thou Jesus of Nazareth? art thou come to destroy us? I know thee who thou art, the Holy One of God.” Mark 1:23,24.

And he healed many that were sick of divers diseases, and cast out many devils; and suffered not the devils to speak, because they knew him.” Mark 1:34.

And unclean spirits, when they saw him, fell down before him, and cried, saying, Thou art the Son of God. And he straitly charged them that they should not make him known.” Mark 3:11,12.

And cried with a loud voice, and said, What have I to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of the most high God? I adjure thee by God, that thou torment me not. For he said unto him, Come out of the man, thou unclean spirit.” Mark 5:7,8.

The same followed Paul and us, and cried, saying, These men are the servants of the most high God, which shew unto us the way of salvation. And this did she many days. But Paul, being grieved, turned and said to the spirit, I command thee in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her. And he came out the same hour.” Acts 16:17,18.

This, primarily, is a warning to us all. Our lives should never be at odds with our testimony. Now we have a new heart put within us, we Christians are no longer like the world, indeed we will, and should, be different from the world, and this difference is our witness before men. As soon as we, who profess Christianity, make one mistake, the world will be after us and conclude that our religion is false and that all their psychologists are right. They will instantly dismiss us as having a religious “delusion,” and consequently they will not listen to us.

But we make mistakes and fall all the time. How can we possibly be a credible witness to those around us? Whenever we give in to our carnal nature and behave like them, they get what they want. As we are sadly doing this all the time, it can truly be said that:

The world cannot hate you; but me it hateth, because I testify of it, that the works thereof are evil.” John 7:7.

However, it is important that we should not let this bother us.

Firstly, let us look positively at how we are to be different from the world:

We are to be sober, children of the day:

Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober. For they that sleep sleep in the night; and they that be drunken are drunken in the night. But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation.” 1 Thessalonians 5:6-8.

Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; as obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance: but as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy.” 1 Peter 1:13-16.

But the end of all things is at hand: be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer.” 1 Peter 4:7.

Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour” 1 Peter 5:8.

We are to speak and live truth at all times:

But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.” John 3:21.

And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” John 8:32.

And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you.” John 14:16,17.

Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” 1 Corinthians 5:8.

Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbour: for we are members one of another.” Ephesians 4:25.

I rejoiced greatly that I found of thy children walking in truth, as we have received a commandment from the Father.” 2 John 4.

I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth.” 3 John 4.

We are to be genuine and sincere:

That ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ; being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God.” Philippians 1:10.

That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world; holding forth the word of life.” Philippians 2:15,16.

Now therefore fear the LORD, and serve him in sincerity and in truth: and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the flood, and in Egypt; and serve ye the LORD.” Joshua 24:14.

Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” 1 Corinthians 5:8.

For we are not as many, which corrupt the word of God: but as of sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of God speak we in Christ.” 2 Corinthians 2:17.

I speak not by commandment, but by occasion of the forwardness of others, and to prove the sincerity of your love.” 2 Corinthians 8:8.

Grace be with all them that love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity. Amen.” Ephesians 6:24.

In all things shewing thyself a pattern of good works: in doctrine shewing uncorruptness, gravity, sincerity, sound speech, that cannot be condemned; that he that is of the contrary part may be ashamed, having no evil thing to say of you.” Titus 2:7,8.

To sum up, our lives should be lives of (and I love this phrase) “simplicity and godly sincerity”:

For our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our conscience, that in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God, we have had our conversation in the world, and more abundantly to you-ward.” 2 Corinthians 1:12.

And we should be continually producing the fruit of the Spirit:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.” Galatians 5:22,23.

This is impossible for the natural man. We must be born again:

Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” John 3:3.

But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” Hebrews 11:6.

Our calling as truly born-again believers is to be spiritually minded at all times:

For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God.” Romans 8:6-8.

For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.” Romans 8:13,14.

Our true witness to the world takes place whenever we live according to the Spirit. Whenever we fail, and let the carnal nature take over, the witness is gone. People will see inconsistency in our lives and laugh at us and reject our religion. So it is important to understand the necessity of our living according to the Spirit.

Truly the Christian life is such a high calling:

Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:13,14.

However, we are also taught in Scripture that even if we do what is right and obey the Spirit of God in our actions, the world will still hate us. We cannot win, in their eyes. Even if we do good works, they will still speak against us as evildoers:

Having your conversation honest among the Gentiles: that, whereas they speak against you as evildoers, they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation.” 1 Peter 2:12.

But it is still our witness to the world to do good. If we are to follow Christ, this is exactly what He had to suffer. Unlike any of us, He was sinless, yet the world persecuted Him so much it put Him to death. If we are to follow Him, we can expect no better. We must learn the lost art of suffering wrongfully.

Here is an interesting teaching from Christ:

Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: but I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain. Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.
Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so? Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect
.” Matthew 5:38-48.

If we really do live our lives in the manner suggested here, namely to “resist not evil,” and “Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away,” does not that make the Christian a doormat for everyone else to walk all over? Surely, people will ask us for everything we have, and if we say, “No,” they can point to this passage and say that we are not being a very good Christian. So how should we really behave?

Yes, we should, as Christians, love righteousness and hate wickedness, yet at the same time we are told to love our enemies:

Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.” Romans 12:19-21.

But our enemy has wronged us, and we quite rightly hate wickedness. Yes, but here we are told that we should not fight back but leave vengeance to the Lord.

Christ tells us that we should expect persecution in this world, because we love (and want to do) what is right:

Blessed are ye, when men shall hate you, and when they shall separate you from their company, and shall reproach you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of man’s sake.” Luke 6:22.

Marvel not, my brethren, if the world hate you.” 1 John 3:13.

If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also.” John 15:18-20.

So, inevitably, we will suffer wrongfully at the hands of the wicked around us. How are we to live our lives in the light of this?

Firstly, we are to realise that suffering at the hands of men for doing well is acceptable before God:

For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully. For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God.” 1 Peter 2:19,20.

Indeed, it is exactly to such a life that we, as Christians, have been called. Why? Because this is the way Christ went before us, and we should expect no better:

For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously: who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed. For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.” 1 Peter 2:21-25.

Secondly, everything is under the Lord’s providential control, and He will not allow us to become destitute as a result of following Him and doing what is right, so we should not worry about such things, but rather put all our trust in Him:

Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature? And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: and yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” Matthew 5:25-34.

Therefore we need to realise that the Christian life is going to be one of suffering wrongfully, we cannot avoid it.

We are called to go against every last natural instinct in our bodies. Our natural instincts aim at the preservation of self, the promotion and well-being of self. Modern psychologists assume that this is a good thing, and consequently people will not understand us. Like Festus, they will think we are mad. But actually, this is still the witness we need to be:

Christ did not defend Himself before Pilate but was silent:

Then said Pilate unto him, Hearest thou not how many things they witness against thee? And he answered him to never a word; insomuch that the governor marvelled greatly.” Matthew 27:13,14.

Our unjust persecutions are a manifest token of the righteous judgment of God:

So that we ourselves glory in you in the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that ye endure: which is a manifest token of the righteous judgment of God, that ye may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which ye also suffer” 2 Thessalonians 1:4,5.

And our not being terrified by our adversaries is also a witness:

And in nothing terrified by your adversaries: which is to them an evident token of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that of God.” Phillippians 1:28.

All this is a part of our witness to the world around us. Despite everything, we should continue to follow Christ, love the Lord and trust in Him to keep us to the end, and indeed to judge our enemies in righteousness at the appropriate time:

But and if ye suffer for righteousness’ sake, happy are ye: and be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled; but sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear: having a good conscience; that, whereas they speak evil of you, as of evildoers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ. For it is better, if the will of God be so, that ye suffer for well doing, than for evil doing.” 1 Peter 3:14-17.

Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: but rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy. If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you: on their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified. But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men’s matters. Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf..... Wherefore let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls to him in well doing, as unto a faithful Creator.” 1 Peter 4:12-16,19.

Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.” Matthew 5:10-12.

September 2014

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The Last Shall Be First

"Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me. But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea." Matthew 18:3-6.

The more I look around the current church scene, the more I realise how few professing Christians there are who take the above words of Christ seriously. The greatest need in the visible church today is for people to be truly converted and become as little children in their whole attitude to God as well as to everyone around them.

We are all born in sin, so I am not saying by any means that little children are sinless, as any mother would tell you, they are not. But they are simple, and trusting in their relationship with their earthly parents, in the same manner that we should be with our heavenly Father.

As children grow older, however, they leave such trusting simplicity behind and mature into the drunkards, prostitutes and dirty, selfish, self-confident people we see all around us.

Man that is in honour, and understandeth not, is like the beasts that perish.” Psalm 49:20.

When the Lord calls people to Himself, He is calling them to renounce such a self-centred, self-confident lifestyle and become simple and trusting again, but this time not towards their earthly parents (who were not worthy of such trust being placed in them anyway) but in our Heavenly Father. In fact, here is another forgotten saying of our Lord:

"Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man's foes shall be they of his own household. He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me. He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it." Matthew 10:34-39.

We are to love God even more than our own earthly families.

Of course we are to honour our parents:

"Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee." Exodus 20:12.

And we are to look after our blood relatives:

"But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel." 1 Timothy 5:8.

But our new, real family is now all those who belong to Christ, not blood ties any more. We cannot trust anyone who is not one of the Lord's people.

"Then one said unto him, Behold, thy mother and thy brethren stand without, desiring to speak with thee. But he answered and said unto him that told him, Who is my mother? and who are my brethren? And he stretched forth his hand toward his disciples, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother." Matthew 12:47-50.

This reminds me of someone I met once who was a murderer. Whilst he was inside Strangeways prison, he became a Christian. After he was set free (murderers don't stay in prison for long these days) he went back to his parents and told them that he was now a Christian, and they consequently threw him out of the house. It is quite remarkable that they would rather have a murderer living with them than a Christian.

Anyway, childlikeness, in this simple, trusting way, is missing in the church. So many church people want to be seen doing something in the church. So they become ministers, elders, missionaries, or other "full time Christian workers," and there are recruitment web sites out there specialising in such stuff. But try speaking to any one of these people, and all I can say is that I find it very difficult to relate to them. We are supposed to follow them, be impressed by their activity for Jesus, (and no doubt throw money at them), but they don't want to know me as a person. I'm obviously not good enough for them.

Compare this with one man I knew in a church I was in once. He had a mild mental handicap (sorry we are not supposed to use such words, er.... I mean learning difficulty). He had to go to a special school (which he hated) and grew into adulthood with no qualifications whatsoever and had to live his life claiming benefits. He hung around with his friends who had a "Christian" worship band (I am not going into the rights and wrongs of such, that is another article altogether!). The pastor of the church, always wanting to see some talent in all the members of his congregation, told everyone that he was very good at setting up the equipment, and that obviously this was his "gift" in life. However, one of the band members told me privately afterwards that this was not the case as he was once nearly electrocuted by him! So to all intents and purposes, my friend with learning disabilities was utterly and completely useless at everything. He was no church leader, missionary, full-time Christian worker, or anything of the kind, he couldn't even put a plug in properly, he was practically useless.

However, after I left the church to go somewhere else, he was the only one from the whole church who still continued to come around and visit me. No-one else from the church bothered with me any more, it was the usual case of "out of sight, out of mind." I ended up having a really good friendship with him, and although I have moved away now and lost contact with him, I will always remember his friendship and, more to the point, the fact that he wanted to take time to know me, which none of the missionaries or "full time Christian workers" I have met have ever done. I remember going around to a pastor's house once and he boasted that he had had over 120 Christmas cards (and there they were all hung around the living room to prove it). I didn't tell him I only had two. These people live in a different world from the ordinary people in the pew.

All this reminds me of the several occasions when our Lord talked about the last being first. Let us take a look at them:

"But many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first. For the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard. And when he had agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And he went out about the third hour, and saw others standing idle in the marketplace, And said unto them; Go ye also into the vineyard, and whatsoever is right I will give you. And they went their way. Again he went out about the sixth and ninth hour, and did likewise. And about the eleventh hour he went out, and found others standing idle, and saith unto them, Why stand ye here all the day idle? They say unto him, Because no man hath hired us. He saith unto them, Go ye also into the vineyard; and whatsoever is right, that shall ye receive. So when even was come, the lord of the vineyard saith unto his steward, Call the labourers, and give them their hire, beginning from the last unto the first. And when they came that were hired about the eleventh hour, they received every man a penny. But when the first came, they supposed that they should have received more; and they likewise received every man a penny. And when they had received it, they murmured against the goodman of the house, Saying, These last have wrought but one hour, and thou hast made them equal unto us, which have borne the burden and heat of the day. But he answered one of them, and said, Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst not thou agree with me for a penny? Take that thine is, and go thy way: I will give unto this last, even as unto thee. Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good? So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen." Matthew 19:30-20:16.

This is not about rewards in heaven. You need to look at the parable of the pounds for that in Luke 19:12-27. In this parable everyone gets the same. But the ones who only worked one hour get the same as those who worked all day. Now, does this parable encourage laziness? Of course not. The whole parable was given to illustrate one point, and one point only, stated at the beginning and end, namely that "the last shall be first, and the first last." Those who are seen outwardly to work full time for the Lord and bear the burden and heat of the day in the visible church, only receive the same reward as those who are not really seen, and certainly not appreciated at all. The parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-30 is similar, but that shows that we are all given differing amounts of useful ability in this life to start with, the one given five talents to start with has to make five more (a 100% increase) to get the same reward as the one given two talents to start with, who only has to make two talents more. This may again sound unfair, but there is a limit to each's capability to start with. If you aspire to be a great pastor, or missionary, then fine, but expect to have to do a lot more work and have a lot more trouble to get the same reward as the man with learning difficulties who never leaves his home town and is practically useless.

"And he came to Capernaum: and being in the house he asked them, What was it that ye disputed among yourselves by the way? But they held their peace: for by the way they had disputed among themselves, who should be the greatest. And he sat down, and called the twelve, and saith unto them, If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, and servant of all. And he took a child, and set him in the midst of them: and when he had taken him in his arms, he said unto them, Whosoever shall receive one of such children in my name, receiveth me: and whosoever shall receive me, receiveth not me, but him that sent me." Mark 9:33-37.

The disciples knew in their hearts it was wrong to dispute over who should be greatest, because when Christ asked them what they were disputing about, they "held their peace." So Christ taught them that if we desire to be first in the kingdom of God, we should try to be last of all, like a little child in fact. Where in the church today are there people striving to be last of all? No, they want their television ministries, deliverance ministries, healing ministries, and leadership responsibilities in their tinpot little churches. No thanks, let us renounce all such things and desire more than anything to be "last of all, and servant of all."

"Then Peter began to say unto him, Lo, we have left all, and have followed thee. And Jesus answered and said, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel's, but he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life. But many that are first shall be last; and the last first." Mark 10:28-31.

Peter thinks, understandably, that because they have left all to follow Christ, they deserve a reward. And indeed Christ tells them that if they are true believers they will indeed get a reward, both in this life (but with persecutions) and in that which is to come. But He also has to remind them that many who seem to be first in the church in this world will actually turn out to be last in the kingdom. There is nothing wrong in theory with becoming a church leader, but watch out! They will become a lot more responsible for their actions and words:

"My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation." James 3:1.

"Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able. When once the master of the house is risen up, and hath shut to the door, and ye begin to stand without, and to knock at the door, saying, Lord, Lord, open unto us; and he shall answer and say unto you, I know you not whence ye are: Then shall ye begin to say, We have eaten and drunk in thy presence, and thou hast taught in our streets. But he shall say, I tell you, I know you not whence ye are; depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when ye shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrust out. And they shall come from the east, and from the west, and from the north, and from the south, and shall sit down in the kingdom of God. And, behold, there are last which shall be first, and there are first which shall be last." Luke 13:24-30.

This is the most solemn warning of them all. Here we see that the phrase about the last being first and the first last is tagged on to the end of a passage about many seeking to enter in to the kingdom of heaven but not being able. Christ is clearly showing that those who always put themselves first in the church in this world, and are seen to be first in the church in this world, may not just simply find themselves last in the next world, but may not even find themselves in glory at all. Let us remember that pride is always lurking at the door:

"I wrote unto the church: but Diotrephes, who loveth to have the preeminence among them, receiveth us not." 3 John 9.

"Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil." 1 Timothy 3:6.

Let us make sure that we are amongst the childlike, servant-like lowest people in the visible church, and we can then be sure that Christ will exalt us in due time.

"Be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble. Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time" 1 Peter 5:5-6.

August 2014

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What if I am not One of the Elect?

"Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you" John 15:16.

Many people have a problem with the subject of God's electing grace. If salvation is solely dependent upon God's choice of who would be saved and who goes to hell, then, they would argue, that is totally unfair. Surely, God is a fair God, and should give all men an equal opportunity to be saved. They would say that it has to be our decision to follow the Lord or not which makes the difference between the saved and the lost, otherwise a loving God is creating people then sending some of them to hell with never any chance of escape. The thought of God sending some people to hell fire and saving others without any merit on their part, without there being any difference in nature between them and those going to hell, many people, including many professing Christians, would find abhorrent. They would say it is unfair and makes God a monster.

However, that is not true. An incident occurred in my life recently which may help to show why God choosing some and not others, is not unfair at all.

My wife's sister came over from China recently, and we had to do the tourist trail. I do not like or recommend doing the tourist trail, but we had to be good hosts, and they wanted to see the sights. One place they wanted to see was the palace at Versailles, just outside Paris. We spent the whole day there, mainly because it took three hours of queueing to get in. It was totally unenjoyable simply because of the number of people. However, at about 4.30pm, we decided we had seen all we wanted to see, and made our way back to the railway station. The problem was that thousands of others decided to do the same thing at the same time.

Once at the station, we had to join a long queue for tickets for the train back to Paris. After about half an hour, however, the staff at the station were so overwhelmed with the number of people, that the decision was made to throw all the gates open and let everybody on the train for free. In the huge surge forward, the phrase "Hillsborough disaster" did cross my mind. Give people something for nothing and they will all want it (this is the problem with the NHS and overcrowded busses full of over 60's with free bus passes). Anyway, we got on the train for free.

But whilst on the train I was thinking about all those who had actually paid for a ticket, before the authorities decided to throw the gates open. I had to admit, if I was one of them I would have been most aggrieved to find out that I had paid, yet thousands of others got on for nothing. In fact I would have been very angry at the train company. "Why couldn't I get on for free as well?" I would be demanding. This is totally unfair!

But was it really unfair of the train company? No! The people who had paid for their ticket, paid the right amount of money, and received the correct service from the train company. The train company had done nothing wrong to them at all. They had not overcharged them, or taken them to the wrong place, they had given them exactly what their ticket contracted them to do, at the correctly advertised price. The fact that a lot of people had got on for nothing was completely irrelevant to the argument about the fairness of the train company to those who had paid for a ticket.

Now, translate this argument to God's dealings with men. What does God do wrong by throwing anyone into hell fire for ever? Nothing! They get what we all justly deserve. If He threw every one of us into hell fire for ever, what would He have done wrong? Nothing. Hell fire for ever is the perfect punishment to fit the crime for the utter sinfulness by nature of every one of us. If God ever gave anyone too much punishment, or inappropriate punishment (like letting them off after only a temporary punishment in a place like the fictional purgatory), now THAT would make God unfair, and consequently a monster, because He would be totally unjust. But the perfect punishment to fit the crime? Of course that is fair and just! Only God knows the heart of every individual, and so only God can judge justly:

"Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?"  Genesis 18:25.

Rather than complaining about God, which people are all too ready to do by nature, the real problem is that we do not see the depth of our absolute, utter sinfulness before a holy God, and do not recognise that hell fire for ever is actually what we all truly deserve. Oh, friend, bring yourself DOWN!

The reality is that we all need a Saviour because we cannot save ourselves. Whilst we are in this world, God has thrown the gates to heaven open. He has provided a Saviour in the Lord Jesus Christ. But we must also be granted repentance and faith by the Lord to put our trust in that Saviour. If we sit around doing nothing, not bothering about our sinful nature other than giving in to it all the time, what do you expect from God? Of course He could rightly eventually drop us into hell fire, the place we all deserve to be for eternity. He would have done nothing wrong in doing so. The fallen angels never had an "opportunity of salvation" after they had fallen, so why should we?

"And the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day." Jude 6.

The prerogative is always with God as to whether He will save us or not. We can do nothing. But does that mean that we should just sit back and actually do nothing? No! Our sins before a holy God ought to bother us. If they do not bother us, we have a serious problem. We can never be good enough to please the holy God who created us and rules all things by His providence. We must at least recognise this, and be concerned about it, not least because of the fact that we are utterly unable to do anything about it. Such concern is what we need, because it is the only thing that will make us cry to God for mercy. If you have such concern, look up! God may be working in you to bring you to salvation. Cry to Him! Call on Him! He is a merciful God.

"All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out." John 6:37.

How many people realise any of this and rush through the gates onto the train to heaven for free? None. People just laugh at such a religion and ignore it, because they are quite happy in their utter sinfulness. This is always going to be our response unless the Lord intervenes and changes our heart. We all deserve to justly reap the wages of sin, and God will have done nothing wrong if we end up in hell fire for ever. But if the Lord sees fit to open the eyes of some people to see their predicament, and enables them to call on Him to have mercy upon them, He will indeed save them by giving them a new heart which is now able to respond to His calling and can now begin to keep His commandments. As well as being a just God, He is also a merciful God. Both His justice and His mercy need to be displayed in order to show the true extent of His glory. One without the other would not do this. He has sent a Saviour into the world to save a certain number from the consequences of their sin by punishing their sin in the Saviour instead, i.e. some people get on the train to heaven for free. Others are left on the train to hell that they have fully paid for by their own sinful ways:

"For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." Romans 6:23.

Which group of people are you in? Only God can tell you. If we are one of the elect, with a free ticket to heaven, and the Lord has delivered us from the wrath to come, how then should we react? Should we be proud, claiming that we are better that those who did not receive such mercy? God forbid! We are no better that them at all. The only difference is that the Lord has been merciful to us. This should humble us to the dust and give us such a thankful heart for all the benefits that the Lord has showered upon us. Pride has been destroyed. Boasting is excluded. Praise the Lord!

Those that walk in pride he is able to abase.” Daniel 4:37.

Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith.” Romans 3:27.

If we are not one of the elect, what about us? If there is no hope for us, why not sin all we like? Why not hate God more and more and ridicule true religion? If there is no hope of salvation for us anyway, why not riot to excess? Hang on a moment.

No-one can know whether they are elect or not whilst they are in an unregenerate state, i.e. neither the elect nor the non-elect can know such a thing without the Lord regenerating them and giving them a new heart. One can only know of one’s election after having been regenerated. So someone concerned about whether they are elect or not before regeneration is concerned about the wrong thing, because he cannot possibly know such a thing. Knowledge of our election or otherwise is not our warrant for coming to God. The command of the gospel is our only warrant to come to Him. If one is elect, one will respond to the gospel command to repent and believe in Christ, because the Lord will grant the faith and repentance required; if one is not elect, one will never respond to it. Of course, just because someone on one particular occasion rejects the gospel, this does not prove that they will never come. Many of the elect reject the gospel for a time, maybe a long time, but in the end they do respond, so we can never give up hope in this world and say about anyone, “You are not one of the elect, I am not preaching the gospel to you!”

All men, whether elect or not, are commanded to repent and turn to Christ. This is the duty of all men, as it is the only way of salvation, because no man now, since the fall, is able to keep God’s holy law. The command is to all men to perform that duty. No man can do this of himself, but needs the Lord to regenerate him, so only the elect will ever respond. But the command is to all men everywhere. To the elect, God will grant the faith and repentance required to keep it. Then they will know their election of God:

Knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God.” 1 Thessalonians 1:4.

To the non-elect, God will never do so, so the non-elect will never fulfil the command, and therefore be justly left in their sins and punished for them. The non-elect can never know in this world whether they are non-elect or not. They are lying if they tell you otherwise. Whilst they are here, they are indistinguishable from the unregenerate elect, of whom it is said:

In time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.” Ephesians 2:2,3.

The non-elect only find out they are non-elect when they arrive in hell fire, and then it wil be too late to cry for any kind of mercy from the Lord.

The only thing any of us, elect or non-elect, can do now, today, is to cry to Him for mercy whilst we still have life and breath in this world. He may not answer, we may never be given the inclination to do this. He does not have to answer and will not have done anything wrong if He doesn't answer, but this is the only hope any of us has:

"Seek ye the LORD, all ye meek of the earth, which have wrought his judgment; seek righteousness, seek meekness: it may be ye shall be hid in the day of the LORD’S anger." Zephaniah 2:3.

"And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal." Matthew 25:46.

"But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth" 2 Thessalonians 2:13.

July 2014

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The End does Not Justify the Means

What is the ultimate end of your religion? I mean, what is the ultimate point of your philosophy of life, beyond which it is impossible to go any higher?

Is it your own happiness and pleasure? To most people this is all life is. They live from day to day accumulating units of pleasure, then when they are old and cannot do that any longer, they just look back at their experiences and say "Oh well, at least I had a good time." As if that will wash with Almighty God on Judgment Day. What a waste of a life!

Some people, however, realise that this is all wrong and the ultimate in self-centredness, so they "turn religious" and begin to have some other, seemingly higher end in view. This, in most cases, turns out to be just as selfish an end, such as their reaching "heaven" or other similar place that they would enjoy for themselves after death.

All this is completely the wrong attitude. Our life should not be led with all our thoughts and aspirations focussed on ourselves, and what we can get out of life (and beyond). What happens to us, and how we feel about anything should be irrelevant. The only true ultimate end of all things should never be ourselves and our own glory, but the glory of the One true and living God Lord of heaven and earth, who created us in the first place.

"Q. What is the chief and highest end of man?
A. Man's chief and highest end is to glorify Goda, and fully to enjoy Him foreverb.
a Romans 11:36; 1 Corinthians 6:20; 1 Corinthians 10:31; Psalm 86:9,12.
b Psalm 73:24-28; John 17:21-23; Psalm 16:5-11; Revelation 21:3-4
." The Westminster Larger Catechism Q.1.

Oh, how we all need to get away from living for ourselves in this world. It is a wretched condition we are born into by nature. We need to see the far, far bigger picture, and love God and want to see Him glorified in all things, regardless of our own personal circumstances.

"I will praise thee, O Lord my God, with all my heart: and I will glorify thy name for evermore." Psalm 86:12.

"Wherefore glorify ye the Lord in the fires, even the name of the Lord God of Israel in the isles of the sea." Isaiah 24:15.

"Therefore, when he was gone out, Jesus said, Now is the Son of man glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God be glorified in him, God shall also glorify him in himself, and shall straightway glorify him." John 13:31-32.

"Verily, verily, I say unto thee, When thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not. This spake he, signifying by what death he should glorify God. And when he had spoken this, he saith unto him, Follow me." John 21:18-19.

"Now the God of patience and consolation grant you to be likeminded one toward another according to Christ Jesus: That ye may with one mind and one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." Romans 15:5-6.

"And that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy; as it is written, For this cause I will confess to thee among the Gentiles, and sing unto thy name." Romans 15:9.

"For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's." 1 Corinthians 6:20.

"Whiles by the experiment of this ministration they glorify God for your professed subjection unto the gospel of Christ, and for your liberal distribution unto them, and unto all men" 2 Corinthians 9:13.

"Having your conversation honest among the Gentiles: that, whereas they speak against you as evildoers, they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation." 1 Peter 2:12.

"Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf." 1 Peter 4:16.

"Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?" Matthew 16:24-26.

"For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen." Romans 11:36.

Having said all that, there are still many people who do genuinely have the glory of another as their ultimate end at least in theory. Muslims believe the ultimate end of their religion is the glory of Allah. Roman Catholics believe the ultimate end of their religion is the glory of the pope and their church. In fact it has to be said that many Protestants too believe far too highly in their own tinpot little denomination than they ought. However, not only have all of these the wrong end in view, but their practice of displaying that ultimate end in their lives still falls far short of what it ought to be. This is because they have a philosophy which only has the end in mind. The means by which they display that end does not matter to them. They are consumed with the end and nothing else. The means - in other words their behaviour in this world whilst trying to display the end - is irrelevant to them.

I will give you two examples of what I mean, the first one from my own experience, and the other from Scripture.

Not so long ago, I went into a muslim greengrocer in my local town and bought a few items. The shopkeeper charged me a certain amount, I took the goods and left the shop. However, as I was walking away, it became obvious to me that he had undercharged me by £3.00. Now, what would you have done? Pocketed the change? After all, no-one would have noticed. Well, the thought did cross my mind I have to admit. What wretched creatures we are! But I realised in my own mind that God would never bless such an action. So I went back, told him about the mistake and gave him the £3.00. The look on his face! Nobody does that! Anyway he was very thankful for what I had done and both of us were happy.

Not five minutes later, I was buying meat in a Halal butcher's stall in the market. This of course brings up a moral dilemma straight away. Should a Christian buy or eat Halal food? I am not going to go into the complexities of this here, suffice it to say that the Scripture states that:

"I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself:but to him that esteemeth any thing to be unclean, to him it is unclean." Romans 14:14.

"As concerning therefore the eating of those things that are offered in sacrifice unto idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is none other God but one." 1 Corinthians 8:4.

"But meat commendeth us not to God: for neither, if we eat, are we the better; neither, if we eat not, are we the worse." 1 Corinthians 8:8.

"Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth. For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving" 1 Timothy 4:3-4.

Anyway, I bought some meat from a Halal butcher. The cost was £4.00. I had no change, so I gave the man a £10 note. He quickly put it in the till, and gave me £1.00 change. So I told him that I had given him a £10 note, not a £5 note. Without a word he opened the till and gave me a £5 note back. If this was a genuine mistake, he would have at least apologised. But he didn't. The look on his face was as if to say, "Oh well, it was worth trying."

The point is that because of the colour of my skin he knew I was not a muslim, so he felt free to try to cheat me. He would never have done that to a fellow muslim. The glory of Allah, to him, was only served by doing good to fellow muslims. Non-muslims can be treated like dirt.

I am not getting at muslims in particular here, a lot of them are nicer than that and would not have done such a thing. This was just one individual. Many people of other religions too have the same philosophy. Roman Catholics, in history, have thought that it was doing God's will to burn Protestants at the stake, despite it being against the sixth Commandment:

"Thou shalt not kill" Exodus 20:13.

And when I visited Israel, I had Jews routinely pushing in front of me because I was a Gentile dog and supposedly not fit to be in the same queue as them. All of these are examples of how some people believe that their God only requires that they do good to those of their particular group or religion. They feel free to deal how they like with the rest. In fact Christ warns us of such people:

They shall put you out of the synagogues: yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service.” John 16:2.

My point is not to rubbish any of these groups of people, but it has to be said that all these groups, and others, do officially have as part of their religion the philosophy that the end justifies the means, and that it is all right to lie, cheat, steal and so on, so long as a greater good (in their minds) is being achieved as a result.

Anyway, now my second example, which is a Biblical one.

Abraham was promised that he would have a child:

"Now the Lord had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto a land that I will shew thee: And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing" Genesis 12:1-2.

"And I will make thy seed as the dust of the earth: so that if a man can number the dust of the earth, then shall thy seed also be numbered." Genesis 13:16.

"And Abram said, Behold, to me thou hast given no seed: and, lo, one born in my house is mine heir. And, behold, the word of the Lord came unto him, saying, This shall not be thine heir; but he that shall come forth out of thine own bowels shall be thine heir. And he brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them:and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be." Genesis 15:3-5.

This promise was a glorious end in view for Abraham and his wife Sarah, not least because of the fact that one day, many generations later, the Saviour would be born through that promised child’s line. However, Sarah could not ordinarily have children. For years and years she was barren. So she eventually concocted what she thought to be a way of Abraham having the child God had promised:

"Now Sarai Abram's wife bare him no children:and she had an handmaid, an Egyptian, whose name was Hagar. And Sarai said unto Abram, Behold now, the Lord hath restrained me from bearing:I pray thee, go in unto my maid; it may be that I may obtain children by her. And Abram hearkened to the voice of Sarai. And Sarai Abram's wife took Hagar her maid the Egyptian, after Abram had dwelt ten years in the land of Canaan, and gave her to her husband Abram to be his wife." Genesis 16:1-3.

Sarah had a good end in view, namely the child God had promised Abraham many years before. But she tried to take things into her own hands. Was the means that God would use really going to be through an adulterous union with Hagar the servant girl? God forbid! The point is that God would NEVER ask us to use unlawful means to achieve the end He wants to achieve.

This is the difference between real Christianity and any false religion. True Christians always make sure they keep the commandments, and leave the achieving of the right end to the Lord to bring about in His overarching providence. This is why it is so important to believe in the providence of God, and not to pretend that we know what God has in mind as an end:

He is before all things, and by him all things consist.” Colossians 1:17.

True Christians do not try to force the end to come about by their own means, because they do not know how God wants the end, i.e. His greatest glory, to be achieved. Who would have thought that the death of Christ would be what God wanted? We know now that without it, there would be no salvation for the Lord’s people. But we would never have thought that that was the way God intended to do it at the time. Any time we think we know what God wants, and try to force it to come about by our own efforts, we will invariably end up doing something stupid. True Christians leave the achieving of the end to God, and concentrate on making sure they do not sin. We are just unprofitable servants:

So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do.” Luke 17:10.

What servant should have to know why his master has told him to do something before he does it? The master may tell him, but there is no obligation on his part to do so. Our duty is to do what we are told in all the circumstance of providence that come our way. And what we are told to do is summarily comprehended in the Ten Commandments.

Many times we may be put into a dilemma (in the Lord’s providence) whereby it would be so easy to sin, for example if someone, such as the government, tries to force us to sin or risk heavy consequences. In such circumstances it is always the right thing to do to not sin. If that means imprisonment or death or some other kind of totally unjust punishment, then so be it. In such a case, that is the way the Lord wants us to glorify Him. Of course this is easier said than done if we find ourselves in such a circumstance, but nevertheless, to not sin is always the right thing to do. Our job is to make sure we do not sin. Only then we need not fear the Lord’s blessing on our actions.

Let us hate sin with all our heart:

Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee.” Psalm 119:11.

"O how love I thy law! it is my meditation all the day." Psalm 129:97.

"If ye love me, keep my commandments." John 14:15.

June 2014

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I needed to go on a journey to Birmingham the other week. This was nothing particularly out of the ordinary except that the journey was especially marked by the number of religious people I came across on the trip. Let me tell you about it.

No sooner had I got on the first bus when I noticed that the elderly lady sitting in front of me was reading her Bible. What a wonderful start to a journey, to see someone else drinking God's Word into their souls! After about ten minutes however, she put it away and got out her smartphone instead, put earphones into her ears and for the rest of the 90 minute journey started jerking around mouthing the words to whatever music she was listening to, presumably some so-called "worship songs." People started giving her odd looks. I must admit, a sixty-something behaving like a teenager was a bit odd to say the least.

Further on in the journey, I noticed out of the window a huge banner with an image of a pair of boxing gloves on it. At first, it did not bother me because I knew that there was a martial arts centre there, but on closer inspection, I noticed that the banner was not on the martial arts centre but on the church next door. The banner was inviting people to a special meeting where they could hear about the battle between Jesus the Son of God, and the devil.

After I arrived in Birmingham, I had maybe 400 yards to walk to my hotel, and what a spiritual place Birmingham must be! No sooner had I left the station when I came upon a large "Christian" bookshop. I went in only to find much less than 50% of the items for sale were actually books. There were plenty of cards, trinkets and CDs, but few books. Anyway, looking through the stock of books that were there, I would say at least 90% of them propounded the modern, think-positive, self-esteem philosophy which passes as Christianity today, but which is exactly the opposite of the true Christianity of self-abasement as found in the Bible.

Just a few more yards up the road, and a group of muslims had set up a table in the street with plenty of literature on it. The Koran was being recited, in English, by a recording through loudspeakers, but surprisingly, to me anyway, the Muslims in charge of the table did not seem to be taking any notice of it, but just stood around chatting and laughing among themselves. This surprised me, because if it was my holy book being recited, I would want to stop everything and listen reverently, with awe before a holy God. But they did not seem to be interested in listening to their holy book at all.

Then a few yards later (after passing the police car keeping an eye on the muslims), I passed another table which was set out with literature, with the slogan, "What does the Bible really teach?" These turned out to be Jehovah's Witnesses, attempting to show the world that their organisation was the only one that was right and that all the other churches did not really know what the Bible taught at all.

Finally, just a few yards before I got to my hotel, a lady put an A4 tract in my hand. I read it later in my hotel room (which was next to another "Christian" bookshop) and it was the supposed prophecy of a lady in 1961, who prophesied Christ's return. I would say that 80% of what was written was true (because it came directly from the Bible), but the rest was complete fantasy.

Now then, that was my journey. I had never come across such a number of religious people in one trip before, all plying their own brand of religion, all very "spiritual" in the world's eyes, but all so desperately wrong.

This got me thinking. All the people I came across really, genuinely thought they were witnessing to others by their actions. Every one of them really thought they were doing God's work. Yet everything I saw was wrong, empty and so far, far away from the Word of God.

I then asked myself the question, "How am I witnessing to the world, with regards my religion (which is, after all, the true religion, as I believe the Lord has revealed it to me)?" If we, as individuals, really believe we have been given the truth in our hearts by the Lord, what are we doing to witness for that truth to everyone around us?

Christ said:

"I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away:and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit. Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit:for without me ye can do nothing. If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned. If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you. Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples." John 15:1-8.

Our duty, and witness, is to produce fruit. That is it. No prophecies, gimmicks or strange ideas, just fruit. With the new heart that the Lord puts in all true believers, we now have the equipment to produce fruit, which we did not have before by nature. But what is the fruit we are to produce? I have heard many times in the past, preachers interpreting this fruit as the number of disciples we make. But I do not think that is what "fruit" is at all:

"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. And they that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit." Galatians 5:22-25.

The fruit that we should produce is in our behaviour, i.e. the way we respond and react in everything that we do. This is our true witness to the world. And where was the fruit of the Spirit being displayed in any of the people I came across on my journey? More to the point, where is this fruit being displayed in me?

"But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life." Romans 6:22.

"Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them." Matthew 7:17-20.

"Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God." 2 Corinthians 7:1.

May 2014

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Good Works

My unbelieving neighbour said something very interesting to me the other day. We were talking about religious extremists. He said that all religions are essentially good, but in every religion there are people who take the religion too far and become extremists. He mentioned as examples, extremist muslims who become suicide bombers, and extremist Roman Catholic nuns who abuse young girls.

After our conversation, I began to start thinking on these things.

Firstly, of course, no religion is good, except the one true religion which worships the only true and living God, Lord of heaven and earth. All other gods, indeed all other religions or philosophical systems which do not acknowledge the one true God, or that distort Him in any way, are figments of people's imaginations, and are by definition false and therefore evil.

However, I could see exactly where my neighbour was coming from. All religions, apart from a few obvious ones like Satanism, DO have, as an integral part of their religion, the performing of good works of charity towards their fellow men. By this, we mean kindness to their neighbour, helping little old ladies across the road, looking after the poor, and so on. In this sense, all major religions, including Secular Humanism (the majority religion in the West), are seemingly "good" at least in my neighbour's, and in most of the world's eyes.

Except Protestantism.

Protestantism, on the other hand, emphasises salvation by grace through faith. Can you not see how terrible this seems in the eyes of unenlightened men, who believe so strongly in doing good works to their neighbour? It seems to them as if Protestantism believes that all we have to do is say that we believe in Jesus, and we can be saved and go to heaven. No good works, nothing. We can carry on in sin all we like, and then in the end be saved to eternal life anyway. What a terrible religion! God, seemingly, has no interest in our doing good works at all. He saves us whether we do them or not. This caricature of Protestantism is, of course, so far from the truth, but it is completely understandable why unbelievers think this way about us when we emphasise the doctrine of justification by faith alone so much.

We ought to be clear. We are saved by grace through faith, not of anything in ourselves. But we are only saved in a way whereby God grants us a new heart, so that we are then able to perform the good works that God wants us to do, which we could not do otherwise. We are saved UNTO good works:

"For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them." Ephesians 2:8-10.

All other religions believe that we are able to do enough good works by ourselves to warrant heaven (or whatever reward the religion has). Protestantism is unique in that it believes, quite rightly, that we do NOT have the ability to warrant heaven, no matter how much we try to please God. This is because of the Fall of man in the garden of Eden:

"All mankind, by their [Adam and Eve's] fall, lost communion with God(a), are under His wrath(b) and curse(c), and so made liable to all the miseries of this life(d), to death itself(e), and to the pains of hell forever(f).

(a) Genesis 3:8,24; John 8:34,42,44; Ephesians 2;12; 4:18.
(b) John 3:36; Romans 1:18; Ephesians 2:3; 5:6.
(c) Galatians 3:10; Revelation 22:3.
(d) Genesis 3:16-19; Job 5:7; Ecclesiastes 2:22,23; Romans 8:18-23.
(e) Ezekiel 18:4; Romans 5:12; 6:23.
(f) Matthew 25:41,46; II Thessalonians 1:9; Revelation 14:9-11
." Westminster Shorter Catechism Q. 19.

"The carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God." Romans 8:7,8.

"But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him." Hebrews 11:6.

So what we need is to see our inability, then cry to God for mercy. Only then could God (if He so wished) grant us the faith and repentance required to turn to Him and become one of His children. Only then will He grant to His people a new heart and an ability to perform the good works that He has before ordained that they should walk therein.

"For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call." Acts 2:39.

"As many as were ordained to eternal life believed." Acts 13:48

"Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life." Acts 11:18.

This is the true gospel that we should be proclaiming. However....

The problem is compounded greatly in that most Protestant churches themselves do not believe this, and promote the gospel as simply believing in Jesus with no mention of any good works to follow. God forbid that this should be the gospel!

"Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid."  Romans 6:1,2.

I heard on television only last night someone say that "We do not need to do anything for our salvation, except believe." But any exception is a work! To believe in the Lord Jesus Christ for our salvation is a work on our part. In reality, faith is a gift of God, therefore it is not really a work but a gift, but if we feel we have to whip it up ourselves, then we are making it a work, and trusting in our faith rather than in the grace of God for our salvation. No wonder such people think we can lose our salvation! If it was up to us, we stand no chance of keeping it!

Consequently, sin is taken so lightly by such people. They are taught that if we believe in Jesus, then He has taken away our sin, and so we have no need to be bothered about sin any longer. Just believe, and you can live the victory life instead. To mention sin at all, itself becomes a sin in such circles. But the most mature believers in the Bible saw how wretched they really were:

"Behold, I am vile" Job 40:4.

"Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me." Psalm 51:5.

"O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" Romans 7:24.

The closer we get to the Lord, the more we see how wretched we are in ourselves. This is a far cry from most churches where sin is thought of as such a small thing. Yes, we are saved from the eternal consequences of our sins by Christ, but surely, if we have the Holy Spirit within us, remaining indwelling sin should bother us more and more.

But an even greater problem in Protestant churches is that people are taught that anyone trying to keep the law is a legalist. People wrongly assume that all such people are doing so in order to curry favour with God and gain salvation by works. Those who do try to keep the law because they think it is a way of salvation (which it never was since the Fall), are wrong. Salvation is by grace through faith. However, there is another kind of person who also tries to keep the law of God, namely all those who have had the new heart put within them, and who consequently try to do good works out of gratitude for the salvation that has been freely given to them in Christ. They want to please God. They outwardly appear exactly the same as those trying to work their way to salvation, but they are not performing good works for that reason at all. Simple Protestants who do not understand the new birth properly, do not understand that true believers should love the law and want to keep it out of gratitude and love for God.

"O how love I thy law! it is my meditation all the day." Psalm 119:97.

So there are an army of people in Protestant, Evangelical churches, who think that all we need to do is "believe in Jesus," that thinking about sin is wrong, and that to strive to keep the law is works religion and should presumably be avoided. This is a major problem in the church today. Are people who believe all this regenerate? I do not wish to speculate. But they are certainly not mature Christians, otherwise they would love good works, want to do them, and be able to see how wretched they are by nature.

May we become such like mature Christians.

"And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not. As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith." Galatians 5:9,10.

One final thought. The unbelieving neighbour who I had a conversation with which sparked me thinking on these things, is a really good neighbour. I had no problem in having him to look after my house when I went away for six months last year. He had a key, kept an eye on the place, and I could trust him completely with my property. He even did some odd jobs around the house, which I would never even have thought of doing if it was me looking after his house! He is a really good neighbour to have. Contrast this with professing Christians. Lend them a book, and it is almost unheard of that they would give it you back. I used to be involved with publishing Christian books, and I can witness that most Christian bookshops will not pay their bills. If you eventually remind them, their attitude would be something like, "Oh, I'm sorry, I forgot. But you have to forgive me because you're a Christian." The sad fact is that professing Christians are hopeless at doing good works, compared to the world.

May we be true witnesses for Christ.

"For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven." Matthew 5:20.

I know this verse primarily refers to Christ's righteousness imputed to us, but I suggest that, if we truly love God, we should take heed of it ourselves, if we want to walk worthy of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.

"That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God" Colossians 1:10.

April 2014

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Understanding Future Events

In the years I have spent as a member in various churches, I have always had something annoying me in the back of my mind which stops me from getting more involved with the church than I could be. That “something” was the fact that the church I was in had an “official” view on future events. Let me explain what I mean.

About eighteen months ago, I went to a regional Missionary Conference organised by the local Brethren churches. It was excellent. It was so encouraging to hear missionary reports from various countries (Angola and Brazil come to mind, if I remember), to see the number of people being converted, and to hear about the many church congregations being established in these places. At the end of the conference, one of the missionaries gave a rousing call for us all to get involved with missionary work, and it certainly moved my heart to want to get involved. However, in the second to last sentence of his speech, he just happened to mention, in passing, the “Rapture,” and my heart sank. They are doing such a good work planting all these churches, yet when the churches are established, they are teaching the people their particular view of future events. What a disappointment.

I want to make it clear that, in this article, I am not trying to conclude which scheme of future events is right or wrong. (In fact, I believe that all the major schemes generally taught in churches have some problem or other with them.) Neither am I wanting to push my own personal view. My own view is actually on the web site in my article “The Millennium,” but I am not trying to force this view on people, it is merely a suggestion. In return, I do not wish other people to try to force their views on me. But churches do. This article is about churches which have a fixed view (any view) on future events, that is taught dogmatically from their pulpits, which, if you don’t believe it, they will still accept you, but you will be pretty much sidelined, as I felt in all the churches that I was in who did this.

In my life, I have been a member of three different churches which had their own particular view on future events. In my case, these churches were the Brethren (who teach Premillennial Dispensationalism), the Evangelical Movement of Wales (who teach Amillennialism) and the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland (who teach Postmillennialism). It does not matter if you do not know what these schemes are, just to say that they are all different and mutually exclusive. In two of these churches (Brethren and Free Presbyterians) I specifically told them that I did not agree with their view on future events before becoming a member, and they still let me into membership. Which was fine, except that the implicit understanding between us was that I would have to put up with the official teaching of the church, and that no-one, including myself, would ever be allowed to rock the boat in any way, by criticising their view or teaching any other view to others in the church.

This is so sad. It meant that I could not fully put my heart and soul into the work of any of these churches. Yes, we evangelise. Yes, we bring people into the church. But then they are taught one particular view of future events. Whatever view is taught, it may or may not be correct. None of us will ever know for sure, until the events actually happen. I find it so frustrating that, in whatever church we are in, we all have to put up with dogmatic, unnecessary teaching on these things.

Now, we have two extremes to avoid. We have a Biblical warning about being too dogmatic on this subject, in the attitude of the Pharisees with regards the first coming of Christ. They were the Bible scholars of the day. They thought they knew exactly what their future Messiah would be like and how He would come. They thought they knew the interpretation of all the relevant prophecies from the Scriptures, and they waited for their expectation to materialise. But they completely missed Him when He came. Christ said to them:

John 5:39, 46, 47 - “Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.... For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me: for he wrote of me. But if ye believe not his writings, how shall ye believe my words?

They had their idea of what the Scriptures taught about future events, but Christ told them they did not truly believe the Scriptures after all. Indeed, today, the Jews are waiting for a future Messiah, even 2,000 years later, and still do not believe their own Scriptures.

This shows to us the danger of thinking that we know what the Scriptures teach about future events. Do you have in your mind a firm belief as to what exactly will happen when Christ comes again? Whether you have understood this out of your own study of the Scriptures or whether you are blindly following what your church teaches, it doesn’t matter. The warning is, Be careful. The Pharisees thought they had such a firm belief, and they were totally wrong.

The opposite extreme of course, is to say that because we cannot tell what future events will be, therefore we should not study the Scriptures which refer to these things at all. However, the fact remains that there are passages in Scripture which refer to Christ’s Second Coming. They are in the Bible, so they must mean something. They cannot mean nothing. Neither can we ignore them. We ignore Scripture at our peril.

The correct way to treat all Bible passages which refer to future events, is to read, understand and learn what we can from them. We should not, however, read them in order to try to sort out in our minds a dogmatic timetable of exactly what is going to happen. Rather, we should make sure we are familiar with the Scriptures, so that when and if Christ does come again in our lifetime, we shall look at what is happening around us and then say to ourselves something like, “So that is what this Scripture means,” “So that is what that Scripture is referring to.” In other words, we should be familiar with Scripture, in order that we can be ready to interpret it correctly when the events happen, and not before.

With regards Christ’s first coming, there were people around who knew the Scriptures just as much as the Pharisees, but who were also open-minded enough to think in this way. Simeon and Anna, to name but two:

Luke 2:25-38 - “And, behold, there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon; and the same man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel: and the Holy Ghost was upon him. And it was revealed unto him by the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And he came by the Spirit into the temple: and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him after the custom of the law, then took he him up in his arms, and blessed God, and said, ‘Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: for mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.’ And Joseph and his mother marvelled at those things which were spoken of him. And Simeon blessed them, and said unto Mary his mother, ‘Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against; (yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also,) that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.’

And there was one Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Aser: she was of a great age, and had lived with an husband seven years from her virginity; and she was a widow of about fourscore and four years, which departed not from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day. And she coming in that instant gave thanks likewise unto the Lord, and spake of him to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem

Notice that Simeon was “waiting for the consolation of Israel” (v.25), whilst Anna “departed not from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day.” Both knew the Scriptures. Both were waiting patiently for the Messiah to appear, in the meantime daily performing their duties before God. And this is exactly what we should be doing.

We should not be trying to interpret difficult prophetic Scriptures, pretending we are an oracle for others to follow. Neither should we be blindly following whatever our church teaches on these things, even if it is right. We should rather be like Mary, who simply:

Luke 2:51 - “kept all these sayings in her heart.”

We all need to be ready for that day, so we will recognise it when it comes.

Matthew 24:42-44 - “Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come. But know this, that if the goodman of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up. Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh.”

Mark 13:32,33 - “But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father. Take ye heed, watch and pray: for ye know not when the time is.”

March 2014

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This is An Hard Saying

We know that every word of Scripture is given by inspiration of God:

2 Timothy 3:16,17 - “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.”

Matthew 5:18 - “For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.”

But have you ever wondered why God, in His inscrutable wisdom, has, in the Scriptures, used some rather odd turns of phrase, instead of plainer language, which has consequently led many people astray? I mean, many people have taken a verse or verses from Scripture, completely out of context and twisted them to fit their wrong views; and we can easily see how this has happened because of the language used. Let us take a few examples:

John 6:53-56 - “Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him.”

Roman Catholics use these verses to condone their superstitious magical belief that the bread and wine in the “Mass” is really turned into the body and blood of Christ. But the passage nowhere states this to be the case. It is not even talking about the Communion. Rather, Christ’s “eating and drinking” his flesh and blood refers to eating and drinking spiritually, and not in any physical way at all. Reading the complete passage proves this clearly. But taking these verses on their own, one can see how people can easily be mistaken in their understanding of the passage.

Or how about:

1 Corinthians 15:29 - “Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead?

One phrase, “baptized for the dead,” confirms Mormons in their ridiculous idea that they can posthumously, retrospectively baptise their ancestors and bring them into the kingdom of God, long after they have died. This is why they are so keen on keeping genealogical records.

Or how about this verse:

2 Samuel 1:26 - “I am distressed for thee, my brother Jonathan: very pleasant hast thou been unto me: thy love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women.”

Homosexuals use this verse to try to legitimise their lifestyle, but nowhere in such a verse does it mention dirty practices. The Bible has spoken elsewhere on this matter:

Romans 1:26-27 - “For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections:for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.”

Or how about this verse:

Revelation 14:12 - “Here is the patience of the saints: here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus.”

I heard this verse interpreted on Revelation TV – a Christian Zionist channel – to try to show that there are two different ways to get to heaven, one for Jews (i.e. those who “keep the commandments of God”) and one for born-again Christians (i.e. those who have “the faith of Jesus”). Of course no man, whether Jew or Gentile, can “keep the commandments of God,” unless he has a new heart put within him by the Lord, i.e. he becomes a born-again Christian, and receives “the faith of Jesus.” To “keep the commandments of God” was never a means of salvation at all for anyone, because none of us, neither Jew nor Gentile, can do it:

Romans 3:20-23 - “Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.”

Or how about this verse:

2 Peter 3:9 - “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us- ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.”

I have heard this verse misinterpreted more than any other I can think of. Many, many people think it is saying that God wants all men everywhere to be saved. But it does not say that. God is longsuffering to usward, i.e. to the elect, to His people, not to everybody; not willing that any of His people should perish, but that all of His people should come to repentance, which they indeed surely will:

John 6:37 - “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.”

In all these examples, and many more, we see that it is so easy to misunderstand what the passage says, and many false ideas have been propagated on the back of such misinterpretations.

If I was composing Scripture (which, God forbid, I am not), I would want to change such statements, in order to make them a lot clearer, so that it would not be so easy for people to misunderstand.

But God never makes mistakes. The words of Scripture are exactly the words He wants to use. It almost seems as if He is wanting people to misunderstand. And this, actually, is what we find to be the case. The Bible tells us the solemn truth that:

2 Thessalonians 2:11-12 - “And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.”

Christ Himself also did this, in that He always spoke in parables to the general crowd, but only explained the meaning of the parables to His disciples afterwards:

Matthew 13:34 - “All these things spake Jesus unto the multitude in parables; and without a parable spake he not unto them.”

Matthew 13:10-11 - “And the disciples came, and said unto him, Why speakest thou unto them in parables? He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given.”

He, remarkably, spoke in parables not to make His teachings more clear, as most people think, but for exactly the opposite reason, to deliberately hide the true meaning from the crowd:

Matthew 13:13-15 - “Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand. And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive: For this people's heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.”

But why would He do such a thing? Well, the answer is quite simple. If we were in the crowd, listening to one of Christ's parables and it had no effect upon us, it didn’t bother us and we just saw it as a nice story and nothing more, we would just go on our way, still in our sins, none the wiser. But if it affected us, and a desire to know more was planted in our hearts, what could we do? Surely, we would approach Christ and ask Him personally for a clearer explanation. This is exactly what He wants us to do. All those who approached Christ to ask questions, were in the group that gathered afterwards, called in the text “the disciples,” to whom He would willingly explain everything. Similarly, we today are taught clearly:

Matthew 7:7-8 - “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.”

The Lord wants us to be genuinely seeking Him, not just blindly following men and movements, who easily trip up over the stumbling blocks God has put in the Bible and get it wrong. Rather, if we have a question, we should ask of Christ personally, and He will always show us the true way:

Jeremiah 29:13 - “And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.”

John 14:6 - “Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.”

Many people have found hard sayings in the Lord's teaching, and given up on following Him:

John 6:60 - “Many therefore of his disciples, when they had heard this, said, This is an hard saying; who can hear it?

John 6:66 - “From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him.”

2 Peter 3:16 - “As also in all his
[Paul’s] epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.”

The Lord has deliberately written His word in such a way that we have to think through it, rather than simply read and blindly accept whatever people tell us, or whatever first comes into our heads. The Scripture is like a word fitly spoken:

Proverbs 25:11 - “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver.”

And our job is to harvest the apples of gold.

February 2014

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Evangelical churches are very keen on encouraging their members to “witness” for the Lord. Indeed, in many of these churches, as soon as we have “made our decision” for Christ, we are immediately told, “Now go and tell someone.” Members of such churches are continually made to feel guilty if they are not overtly, aggressively evangelising and getting fully involved in the church’s outreach programme. Such “witnessing,” apparently, is the Great Commission to the church:

Matthew 28:18-20 - “And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.”

Mark 16:16 - “And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.”

Apart from the fact that these two verses are often mistakenly confused with each other when quoted, and apart from the fact that they were actually instructions only given to the eleven disciples and not necessarily for us today, “witnessing” and outreach do play a very major part in the work of Evangelical Christians.

In fact it is the only work most of them do, all their activity being geared towards bringing people into their particular church, so that it may grow numerically. I heard the minister of an Evangelical church once say, "If the church doesn't evangelise it will die," conveniently forgetting that Christ Himself said:

Matthew 16:18 - “I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

In these churches, we are told that we must take every opportunity we can get to tell people about Jesus. So, when we are at work, and our workmates are all talking of something worldly, we should try our best to get the conversation around to religion as often as possible. Or, if we have a day off, we should spend it usefully by going out doing door to door work, or distributing tracts in the High Street, or something similar. But is this really what “witnessing” is all about?

Now, of course, please do not misunderstand me. All of Christ’s people should evangelise. After all, we have good news to proclaim! All the elect need to be gathered in, and the ordinary means God uses for this is the spreading of the gospel throughout the world by His followers:

Romans 10:14,15 - “How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!

Matthew 24:14 - “And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.”

However, let me take you to Henan province in China. Henan has been described as “The Galilee of China,” because of the number of churches (legal and illegal) there are in that province, particularly in the rural areas. A church in every village. What a wonderful place it must be! Christians everywhere! Wouldn’t we all like to live in a place like that?

The “Christians” in Henan are very good at doing their bit of “witnessing” to everyone around them, inviting them to come to church and telling them about Jesus. As far as Evangelical churches are concerned, these are exemplary in their witnessing, and prime examples that we should all follow.

My wife recently started talking to an unbeliever from Henan about Christianity. Her response was, “Don’t talk to me about Christianity. There are so many people in Henan and they all say, “I love the Lord,” “I’m born-again,” or “I love Jesus,” and they all try their utmost to get people to go to their churches. But they still lie, cheat and steal like everyone else. I’m better than that!” And she was absolutely right. Plenty of people who aren’t Christian in any way, realise that it is wrong to lie, cheat and steal, and they at least try not to do these things. You do not have to be a Christian to know that these things are wrong. But what an indictment on the so-called “Christian” population in Henan. Surely, it ought not to be like this.

What about the lives of these Christians? Their lives do not seem to have changed at all, even though they would tell you vehemently that they are “born-again,” and invite you to share their experience.

If anyone continues to lie, cheat and steal after they have supposedly “become a Christian,” then they have not truly been born-again at all. Such people can say that they love the Lord as much as they like, but the fact remains that they do not. Christ speaks about many who say they are true believers, but are not, in very solemn words:

Matthew 7:21 - “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.”

Yes, we are all called, if we are a Christian, to “witness” for Christ. But that does not simply mean just outward evangelism. In fact, if we continually evangelise in that manner, people will actually be turned off from Christianity completely, thinking that we are just another religious nutcase. Why should we be right? Why should people go to our church, as opposed to any other church? Why should people choose our religion, as opposed to any other? This is no witness at all for Christ.

Of course, if we are asked about what we believe, then we should always be ready to give an answer:

1 Peter 3:15,16 - “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear: having a good conscience; that, whereas they speak evil of you, as of evildoers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ.”

But agressively witnessing in such a way that puts people off the things of the Lord? Do we really realise that this sort of witnessing is vain?

It is our lives that are the true witness for Christ, not our aggressive evangelism. So, for example, women with unbelieving husbands are told:

1 Peter 3:1,2 - “Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives; while they behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear.”

Timothy was told to be an example to others, despite his youth:

1 Timothy 4:12 - “Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity.”

And when people unfairly persecute us, our witness to them ought to be our good conversation in Christ:

1 Peter 3:16 - “Having a good conscience; that, whereas they speak evil of you, as of evildoers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ.”

Yes, we need to tell people about Jesus. But by far the greatest witness we can have is to do what Christ says. We need to live our lives no longer in the way the world does, in the vanity of our mind, but live by the new heart that has been put within us, nurturing the fruit of the Spirit, which the world does not have. Then, and only then, can we can be of some use in the kingdom of the Lord, and be true witnesses for Him.

Matthew 7:24-27 - “Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock. And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it.”

Matthew 12:50 - “For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother.”

2 Corinthians 1:12 - “For our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our conscience, that in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God, we have had our conversation in the world, and more abundantly to you-ward.”

Ephesians 4:17-24 - “This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind, having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart: who being past feeling have given themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness. But ye have not so learned Christ; if so be that ye have heard him, and have been taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus: that ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; and be renewed in the spirit of your mind; and that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.”

1 John 2:17 - “And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.”

January 2014

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